With albums that discussed everything from the hurt of heartache to the satisfaction of success, Kanye West’s music was always relatable. There’s no doubt that the man has talent. As a producer, songwriter, and performer he’s racked up acclaim with songs like “All Falls Down,” “Jesus Walks,” “Gorgeous” and “Never Let Me Down.” What do those, and so many of his other songs, have in common?
The new Kanye would never write them. He likely wouldn’t even listen to them.
“All Falls Down” drops the lyrics: “We shine because they hate us/ floss ’cause they degrade us/ We tryna buy back our 40 acres,” making reference to the promise made by the Lincoln administration that would have given freed blacks the means to financial security. “Jesus Walks” has a whole verse that talks about police brutality. “Never Let Me Down” refers to West’s mother participating in the sit-ins that took place during the Civil Rights Movement. “Gorgeous” spells out racial profiling with the lines: “Face it, Jerome get more time than Brandon/ And at the airport they check all through my bag/ And tell me that it’s random.” Those songs are just the tip of the iceberg of what was. This new Kanye could not be further removed from his old self. It seems that he has found a new tune to sing, like infamously claiming slavery was a choice.
The old Kanye was iconic, but he was also a testament to the roots of hip-hop. Hip-hop first sprung up during the 1970s in the South Bronx. According to an article published in the FIU Law Review, the youth living in that area had been written off as marginalized communities that couldn’t be helped. The music that they began to create served a twofold purpose: it kept them out of trouble and it gave them an outlet to protest unfair treatment. Hip-hop only grew from there, in both scope and subject matter. Rap groups like Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five mixed social issues into their lyrics, like with their 1982 song “The Message” that focused on life in housing projects. “Changes” by the rapper 2Pac came out in 10 years later, and in it, he ripped against police brutality and the “war on drugs,” a campaign that was and still has been disproportionately fought against people of color. And in 1999 the rapper Mos Def released “Mathematics,” a track that used actual statistics to lament the injustices faced by marginalized communities.
That trend hasn’t lessened since then. Artists like Childish Gambino, Kendrick Lamar, and J. Cole are all known for dropping politically charged hits, and they aren’t the only ones. And of course, there was Mr. West. But West has chosen to deviate from the modus operandi that served to shape the genre of hip-hop. Yes, he has still made his political choices known loud and clear, but many of his fans don’t recognize the path he’s chosen. Back in May of this year West said, “When you hear about slavery for 400 years…that sounds like a choice.” He later updated his song “Ye” to include the lyrics: “Sorry, but I chose not to be no slave.” During his Saturday Night Live appearance in September, West closed out the show with a rant in which he alleged that the cast and crew tried to keep him from wearing his beloved Make America Great Again Hat. Last week he paid a trip to the White House in which he showered President Donald Trump with praise (a president who’s been accused, based on both word and action, of not caring about people of color). West even said that President Trump is on a “hero’s journey,” and has “stopped the war” in North Korea.
To be fair, while at the White House, West did address his concerns over prison reform and gang violence in parts of Chicago, his hometown. But he also claimed, when asked about President Trump’s alleged racist views, “As black people, we have to take responsibility for what we’re doing. We kill each other more than police officers.”
Fans might be a little more than shocked. West did in fact address the issue of police violence as recently as in his 2016 song “Feedback” where he rapped: “Hands up we just doing what the cops taught us/ Hands up, hands up then the cops shot us.” Seeing the same man who sang those lines turn around so completely against his own beliefs is enough to give one a bad case of whiplash.
West himself explains the drastic change in his beliefs, lamenting that people have been trying to stifle his “right to independent thought.” He took to Twitter in April to explain this, adding that he loves everyone, including Trump whom he believes to have “dragon energy” just like himself. Of course, everyone has their right to believe what they want. And West did add that he doesn’t “agree with everything Trump does.” Yet, the clip of him during his meeting with the President, rushing to Trump’s side to embrace him, says a lot. And when you choose to align yourself with someone whose actions and words have caused great harm to others, that says even more.
On the America.Gov website, it explains that hip-hop has been a “cultural response to historic oppression and racism, a system for communication among black communities throughout the United States.” West used to epitomize this, with lyrics that boldly took on things that people tried their best to edge out. As he said in the song “Never Let Me Down,” “racism still alive we just be concealing it.” It’s no wonder that fans of his are feeling more than let down by this new Kanye.
Photo courtesy of AP News